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Stewed Beef Rice Noodles – "Boat Noodles"
Gkuay Dtiow Reua (or Kuay Tiow Reua)*

A Recipe of Kasma Loha-unchit
Recipe Copyright © 1997 Kasma Loha-unchit.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Beef Noodle SoupSee also Kasma's Blog on Beef Noodle Soup.


  • Tender stewed beef with tendons and juices (see below)
  • 2-3 lb fresh gkuay dtiow or chow fun rice noodles – either wide strand (sen yai) or thin (sen lek)
  • Fried garlic oil – garlic pieces and oil (8 cloves chopped garlic fried in 1/4 cup oil)
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups thinly sliced fresh beef (use a tender cut like skirt steak)
  • 1 13-oz. pkg. beef meatballs (about 18-20 per pkg.)
  • 1 tsp. white pepper powder
  • 4 cups fresh bean sprouts
  • 7-8 cups morning glory or water spinach (pak boong) pieces
  • 1 cup Chinese celery leaves, or cilantro
  • 4 green onions, white and green parts, cut into thin rounds

Stewed Beef and Tendons

  • 2 1/2 lb. beef shank (boneless), chuck roast, or other cut with tendons, plus 2 lbs. beef soup bones; or 5 lbs. bone-in beef shank with tendons
  • Cooked Beef Tendon14 cups water
  • 2 star anise or equivalent
  • 3 stalks lemon grass – use bottom 4-5 inches of stalk, crushed whole
  • 3-inch section fresh or frozen galanga, crushed (or use 8 dried pieces)
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 head garlic cloves, crushed whole
  • 1/2 tsp. whole peppercorns, cracked
  • 1/4 cup cilantro roots and stem sections, crushed
  • 6 green onions – use stalk part with roots attached, leave whole
  • 3 Tbs. black soy sauce
  • 1-2 Tbs. palm or brown sugar, or to taste (see Cooking to Taste)
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • About 1/2 cup fish sauce (nahm bplah), or to taste

Hot Chile Sauce:

  • 2-3 red jalapeño or serrano peppers, chopped with seeds
  • 6-10 Thai chillies, cut into thin rounds with seeds
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 2-3 Tbs. white vinegar, to taste
  • 2-3 Tbs. fish sauce (nahm bplah) to taste
  • 2-3 tsp. sugar, to taste

Assembling SoupMake the stewed beef and tendons by placing the whole beef shank with all the herbs, spices and flavor ingredients in a large stock pot. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer over very low heat until the shank is tender. This may take 3 or more hours. Remove the beef from the pot and strain out all the herbs and spices from the broth. Cut shank including tendons into bite-size chunks and return to the strained broth.

While the beef shank is stewing, prepare the hot sauce. Pound the chopped chillies and garlic to a paste. Then combine with the remaining sauce ingredients and let sit at least 1/2 hour to let the flavors blend and mingle. The sauce ages well and actually tastes better when made a day or two ahead of time.

If you are using fresh chow fun noodles, separate as much as possible into single strands. Make the fried garlic oil and prepare the remaining ingredients where necessary.

When the stewed beef and tendons are tender and you are ready to cook the noodles, bring a large pot of water to a boil. On an adjacent burner, keep the stewed beef and broth heated to a gentle boil and add the beef balls. Using a noodle cooking basket with handle or a wire-mesh strainer, blanch the noodles, bean sprouts and morning glory for a few seconds until the noodles are hot and vegetables wilted. (You can blanch them together or separately depending on whether you are cooking by the bowl or in a large batch at a time.) Remove from water, drain and place in individual serving bowls.

Blanch the sliced beef steak in a wire-mesh strainer dipped into the hot water just enough to cook to medium rare (or cook in the boiling beef broth). Lift strainer out of water and drain. Arrange beef slices over the noodles and sprinkle with some green onion rounds. Then spoon a couple of beef meatballs and some stewed beef and tendon pieces along with broth over the noodles in each bowl. Dust lightly with powdered white pepper and top with fried garlic oil (both garlic pieces and a little oil), and Chinese celery or cilantro leaves.

Serve hot with the chilli sauce on a condiment tray that also includes ground dried red chillies, sugar and fish sauce, at the table for adjusting flavors as each person wishes. Serves 10 as a one-dish meal.

Notes and Pointers

Stewed BeefEach Southeast Asian culture has its favorite noodle dishes. The Vietnamese are fond of their pho, the Thai of their gkuay tiow reua ("boat noodles"), and the Malaysians their laksa. These noodle dishes share similar roots - they are Chinese in origin, introduced by immigrants from different parts of China who settled in the region several generations ago. Their descendants continue to run the noodle shops that abound in many Southeast Asian cities, or hawk countless bowls from push-cart stalls and paddle boats, adding color and aroma to the sidewalks and canals of the Orient.

The common origin explains why many noodle dishes of different Southeast Asian cultures are suspiciously similar in look and taste. This certainly is true of beef noodle soup. The Vietnamese "pho" is not much different from the Thai "kuay tiow reua, " or the Cantonese beef noodles you get in Chinatown noodle shops.

There are essentially two kinds of beef noodle soup – one with clearer broth and a cleaner taste and the other with a darker, richer and heartier broth. The latter is what I prefer for the colder seasons of the year because of its warming qualities.

I like to stew the beef for my noodle soup with a multitude of herbs and spices, adding a fragrant aroma that is not only inviting to the appetite but turns the concoction into something of a preventative medicinal broth. And because a good, hearty broth is produced by simmering the beef over very low heat for a number of hours, the making of it warms and perfumes the home just as much as the finished soup is warming to the tummy and the soul.

Beef Noodle SoupAsians like a variety of textures in their food and prefer to stew beef that is laced with tendons. Well-tenderized tendons give a contrasting gelatinous texture to the chewier meat. Many westerners are leery about eating tendon; they often mistake it for fat and think it is bad for their health. Yet, they do not realize that this same tendon is the basic stuff that jello is made out of, and it certainly is not fatty.

For my stewed beef soup, I like to use a whole shank because it is attached by large tendons to the muscles and bone. It is readily available from Asian markets with a meat counter. I simmer it whole until the entire shank is tender. This takes about three to four hours. The slower the cooking, the sweeter and more flavorful the broth.

For further contrast of texture and flavor, tripe may be added to the stewing pot. Fresh steak slices, lightly cooked to medium rare, and beef meat balls also frequently accompany the stewed beef on the noodles. The latter is available in the refrigerated compartments of Asian markets. They have a similar elastic texture to fish balls, but are a darker grayish color.

The favorite noodles served in beef soup is fresh rice noodles - the same kind used for Chinese "chow fun." Available in most Asian markets, they come in dense two-pound packages. Be sure to separate the noodles into individual strands before using, or else you will have one big lump in your soup.

The soup is served with bean sprouts and lettuce either already wilted in the broth, or separately on a side dish for dunking into the soup as each person wishes. The Vietnamese like to add sprigs of mint and basil to the side dish for bites of refreshing herbal flavors.

Finally, each partaker at a noodle meal can spice the soup any way he or she wishes with chile sauces, fish sauce and other condiments laid out on the table. Bottled sauces, such as Chinese chile sauce with garlic or Sriracha hot sauce, are available from most Asian stores. I prefer to make my own with fresh chiles as in the recipe above.

Be sure to see Kasma's Blog on Beef Noodle Soup.

Kasma taught this recipe in the Evening Series Advanced Set C-1.

*Because the Thai language has its own script, there are different ways of transliterating Thai into English. The more phonetic version is Gkuay Dtiow Reua; the more usual spelling is Kuay Tiow Reua. See A Note on Thai Pronunciation and Spelling.

Recipe Copyright © 1997 Kasma Loha-unchit. All rights reserved.

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